By Stephanie O’Neill
The City of Los Angeles garnered worldwide attention earlier this year when it became the nation’s first city to require male adult film actors to wear condoms while performing.
But the landmark law only applies to film shoots that require a city permit and does not include adult films shot in studios.
Now voters will determine if the requirements should be expanded to all of Los Angeles County. Measure B would direct the Los Angeles County Health Department to enforce broader condom requirements at all adult film shoots countywide, studios included.
The AIDS Health Care Foundation backed the city ordinance and is now behind Measure B. They say both the city ordinance and the county measure are intended to save lives.
“You really can’t argue that people who go to work at a job really ought to be putting their health at risk,” says Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Health Care Foundation. “We put a thing at the conclusion of a film saying ‘no animal was hurt in the making of this film.’ We can’t say that about these films when it comes to people, real life people.”
Darren James is one of those people. He’s a well-known former adult film performer. In 2004, his life and career crashed down around him, just as he was making an exit plan to leave the industry for good.
“I was going to try to put myself back in school, save my money and get out — and the worst thing happened. Right at the time when I signed a contract, I contracted HIV,” he says. “Basically, I got a phone call right before the weekend. From what I remember … it was just devastating. I was numb because I figured, what? Have I got chlamydia? No, I’ve got HIV.”
James, 48, was at the center of a highly-publicized HIV outbreak that led to a month-long shutdown of the San Fernando Valley adult film industry. Three female actors who performed with James were also found to be HIV positive.
“If you’re working, you’re gonna get something eventually with that amount of exposure,” says James, who today works as an HIV counselor for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “A lot of people will tell you they never got nothing. That’s a bunch of BS.”
James says he’s a strong supporter of the mandatory condom laws. Under Measure B, adult film producers are required to obtain health permits from the L.A. County Department of Public Health. Permit fees would fund random inspections by health workers. But so far — despite the new Los Angeles City condom law — no inspections have happened. That’s because city officials and Weinstein’s group have agreed to wait to see if Measure B passes. The countywide measure would supersede the city ordinance.
Meanwhile, adult industry representatives strongly oppose the condom requirement.
“This law will actually hurt performers more than it will help,” says Diane Duke, executive director of the Free Speech Coalition, the trade association for the adult entertainment industry.
Duke says her organization has long opposed mandatory condom use among its performers as unnecessary regulation. She points to no reported HIV cases within the industry since the outbreak involving James eight years ago. She adds that the rate of sexually transmitted diseases among adult film performers is lower than that among populations with similar demographics. Duke says that’s largely due to stringent testing protocols that the industry adopted after the 2004 HIV outbreak.
“What we have in place works,” she says. “Undermining what we have in place and the self-regulation that we’ve imposed — and that the industry goes by rigidly — is unfortunate. And by mandating condoms and trying to regulate from outside, I think that’s only going to hurt our performers.”
Duke says mainstream adult film producers require all actors to undergo tests for sexually transmitted diseases every 28 days. The results are registered in a database and helps determine whether a performer is eligible to be called for work. Duke fears the condom requirements will hurt the estimated 1,000 to 1,500 adult film performers who work in the Los Angeles porn industry.
“We’ll be looking at the possibility of diminishing protocols in place, and it’s going to make our performers much less safe than they are now,” says Duke, adding that mandatory condom laws may push the porn industry underground or out of Los Angeles County all together, taking with it an estimated $1 billion industry.
What’s more, Duke says, the recession, free Internet porn and piracy have already cut industry earnings by about half. She believes mandatory condom laws are certain to erode profits even further — because most viewers prefer buying and watching films in which performers act without condoms, she says.
But Michael Weinstein of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation disagrees.
“I don’t think that people are going to be so horrified by that little piece of latex that they’re not going to be willing to purchase these films,” he says.
Listen to Stephanie O’Neill’s story: